Cities in Ecuador

You’ll likely want to choose your new home abroad based on your personal interests and health status. This blog series will introduce you to many of the popular expat cities in Ecuador and share what makes them an ideal choice for you, or a place to avoid.

Guayaquil Ecuador: Hotels, Malls and Restaurants Near the Airport

If you’re planning a trip to Guayaquil Ecuador, here’s a handy guide for hotels, malls and restaurants near the Guayaquil International Airport.

In case you missed it, we shared a video on our YouTube channel about our long weekend in Guayaquil. We showed the Sheraton Hotel where we stayed, Mall del Sol where we shopped and ate, and we visited the Guayaquil airport to say goodbye to an old friend.

Several of our viewers asked for more details about our experience in Guayaquil, and especially about the price of Apple products in Think, the Apple Authorized Retailer, so that’s the focus of this article.

Guayaquil Ecuador: The 40,000 Foot Overview

Guayaquil Ecuador Building Cerro Santa Ana

General Information About Guayaquil Ecuador

We had several comments on our video about how developed Guayaquil looked. The part of town where we stayed near the airport and Mall del Sol is very “first world,” but there are large parts of the city that are still very poor and underdeveloped.

Miles of sprawling barrios with cinder block houses line the highway heading west out of town fulfilling the stereotype that many US Americans have about developing nations. However, some parts of Ecuador’s major cities feel just like any other developed city in the US, Canada or Europe.

Guayaquil and Quito (the capital city) are roughly the same size with about 3 million people. Guayaquil is Ecuador’s major economic driver and is home to Ecuador’s largest port.

Tourist Attractions in Guayaquil Ecuador

Guayaquil also has a number of popular tourist attractions, such as the Malecón 2000, Cerro Santa Ana (Santa Ana Hill), Cerro Blanco and Parque Histórico in Samborondón. These areas are well guarded and very safe during the day.

Safety in Guayaquil Ecuador

Guayaquil is also Ecuador’s most dangerous city with a high crime rate compared to other major cities in Ecuador. However, Guayaquil is still safer then the most dangerous cities in the US, such as Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit and Baltimore.

Most of Guayaquil’s crime occurs in the lower income areas of town, so if you stay in the more developed areas and don’t walk around the city at night, you’ll minimize your risk.

The two main causes for concern as tourists are pickpockets and taxi drivers. Always keep your possessions secure in locked zippers or safety belts. It’s best to leave your valuables in the hotel safe, but you’ll be fine taking pictures with your phone. Just pay attention to your surroundings.

We recommend using the Uber or Cabify apps to request cabs in Guayaquil, or use the hotel drivers/shuttles. These are much safer options than hailing cabs on the street since there will be a record of the fare.

Unfortunately, whether true or not, Guayaquil taxi drivers have a reputation of driving unsuspecting tourists to a bad part of town, taking all of their belongings, and leaving them to fend for themselves. We have never met anyone who has experienced this, but we regularly get comments on our videos about this type of crime from Ecuadorians who live in Guayaquil so it’s something to keep in mind.

Hotels Near the Guayaquil Airport

There are several hotels near the Guayaquil airport that are also conveniently located to malls and restaurants.

Air Suites Hotel Guayaquil Airport (Low Budget)

Air Suites Hotel Guayaquil Ecuador

The Air Suites Hotel in Guayaquil is only a few blocks from the airport, it’s very affordable and they accept pets. We’ve stayed their several times and it typically costs about $35/night.

The rooms are small, but very clean and the location is convenient to the airport, but there aren’t many dining options nearby and no one speaks English who works there. They do offer a limited breakfast.

We walked about 8 blocks to Mall del Sol for dinner one evening while it was still light, but we wouldn’t recommend walking there or back after dark. You can take a cab for about $2.

Holiday Inn Hotel Guayaquil Airport

Holiday Inn Guayaquil Ecuador Airport

We’ve never stayed at the Holiday Inn Guayaquil Airport, but it has been recommended to us by friends and viewers. It’s walking distance from the airport, making it the most convenient. Rooms run $80 to $100/night.

The Sheraton Hotel

The Sheraton Hotel

We often stay at the Sheraton Hotel across the street from Mall del Sol when we visit Guayaquil. It’s close to the airport, it has a walking bridge to the mall, and it’s now part of Marriott so we get points that we can use on future trips.

The hotel rooms are extremely luxurious and the hotel itself is very high end. We usually pay $70 to $100/night to sleep in arguably the most comfortable bed we’ve ever had. In Denver, rooms in a comparable hotel would easily be more than $300/night!

The people who work the front desk/check-in counter speak English, but most of the other staff does not. English is spoken by a lot of people in Cuenca, but not in other parts of Ecuador, so it’s a good idea to study your Spanish and bring a translator app with you when you travel throughout Ecuador.

Courtyard by Marriott Guayaquil

Marriott Courtyard Guayaquil Ecuador

UPDATE: The Courtyard by Marriott Guayaquil by San Marino Mall is no longer in operation, an apparent casualty of the pandemic and quarantine. We’re disappointed to learn that it has closed because it was a really nice hotel in a great location.

None of these hotels offer many food items for speciality diets so you won’t find a lot of vegan or gluten-free options on the menu. They cater to a largely international and wealthy Ecuadorian audience who tends to eat traditional fare.

Malls Near the Guayaquil Ecuador Airport

There are several high-end malls and shopping areas near the Guayaquil Ecuador international airport.

Mall del Sol

Mall del sol

Our viewers were especially surprised by Mall del Sol. You could drop this mall anywhere in the United States and people wouldn’t know it was from Ecuador. It even has a lot of the same stores and fast food dining options as any mall in the US, including Fossil, Clarks, Forever 21, McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, etc. This mall also has a Sukasa, which is a home store similar to a Crate & Barrel.

Think Authorized Premium Apple Reseller

Premium Apple Seller

We were really impressed with the customer service at Think, an Apple Authorized Premium Reseller and Repair Center. They were very knowledgeable about the products and very eager to help us with my laptop, which had a battery recall.

Below, I’ve included a few photos of the price and specs labels for the iMac and MacBook Pro (as of August 2020). Unlike a true Apple Store back in the US, Think only has a couple of options available in the store with a VERY limited color selection for each type of device.

The prices are also a lot higher. For example, the 21.5 inch 3.0 GHz iMac at Think costs $2,005 while it’s listed for $1,499 on the Apple website. That’s about 50% more. The base 13 inch MacBook Pro model costs $2,364 at Think while it’s listed for $1,299 on the Apple website. That’s almost double the price!

You’ll also notice that the prices are prominently shown with financing, which is extremely common in Ecuador. You can finance EVERYTHING. Even $20 toasters! However, you get a steep discount for paying in cash or charging it to your credit card.

iMac MacBook Pro Prize MacBook Pro Prize

San Marino Mall Guayaquil

San Marino Mall Guayaquil Ecuador

San Marino Mall is very similar to Mall del Sol, although it feels a bit more compact and crowded. It has many of the same international chain stores that you’ll find in malls throughout Ecuador’s major cities. It also has a nice food court with a Noe Sushi.

Plaza Lagos Town Center in Samborondón

Plaza Lagos Samborondon

Plaza Lagos Town Center is a high-end outdoor mall in the upscale Samborodón township located about 10 minutes by cab north of the Guayaquil Airport. We’re constantly amazed  by how developed parts of Ecuador are and we like to bust the “3rd world” myth whenever we have the chance.

This outdoor mall is one of the nicest we’ve seen, ANYWHERE! The stores and restaurants are VERY fancy! And expensive! You can expect to pay United States/European prices at this mall, which is a popular place for wealthy Ecuadorians to see and be seen.

Restaurants Near the Guayaquil Ecuador Airport

There are lots of restaurants to choose from near the Guayaquil Ecuador airport, mostly located in or around the three nearby malls.

Restaurants in Mall del Sol Guayaquil Ecuador

Mall del Sol has a big food court with a bunch of typical unhealthy American fast food chains, but we were really surprised at the healthy food options in the mall. The Freshii where we ate for lunch was delicious, and a place called Biscuits by Nané in the same area was equally good.

Both had loads of vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and traditional fare that would be considered fast casual like a Chipotle or Tokyo Joe’s in the US. Our lunch at Freshii cost $19.94, which included two entrees and two bottles of water.

Our favorite “treat” place to eat in Ecuador is Noe Sushi. We typically pay $60 to $80 to eat dinner there, depending on how hungry and “thirsty” we are. We often enjoy a carafe of saki, which is $15 for a large. Saki is quite a bit more expensive in Ecuador because it’s imported. A glass of wine costs about $6.

A typical meal like this back in Denver would easily cost over $120.

Noe Sushi

Saki

There are also several restaurants located next to the Sheraton hotel, including a Red Lion.

Restaurants in San Marino Mall Guayaquil Ecuador

San Marino Mall has a large food court with a variety of Ecuadorian and traditional fare restaurants. They also have a restaurant called Go Green (there’s also one in the Mall del Sol food court) that is similar to a Chipotle with bowls, burritos and salads.

The San Marino Mall also has a Noe Sushi and several other restaurants located in the area near the mall.

Restaurants in Plaza Lagos Town Center Mall

Plaza Lagos Restaurant Samborondon

We had a delicious lunch with some Aperol Spritzers at Tinta Café in our Samborondón video. The mall has several high-end restaurants that serve mostly traditional fare: American, Italian, Mexican, etc. They even have a Sweet & Coffee and a wine bar, but they have very few options for special diets. You can expect to pay similar prices as the United States at these stores and restaurants.

Conclusion

If you’re flying into Guayaquil Ecuador and plan to stay overnight or for several days to enjoy the tourist attractions, you’ll find lots of options for nice hotels, malls and restaurants near the Guayaquil airport.

That part of the city is very well developed and mostly safe during the day, but you’ll want to take common sense precautions just like you would in any major city to avoid being the victim of a crime, especially pickpocketing.

The cost of living in Ecuador is low, but the cost of things are high. Restaurants, hotels and public transportation (including taxis) are much more affordable, although there are a few exceptions like Plaza Lagos. However, anything with a plug, especially electronics, are 30-100% more expensive in Ecuador than the United States, and you’ll find a smaller selection with fewer options.

However, if you plan to stay in Ecuador, it’s easier to get things repaired if you buy them here, so you have to weigh the hassle of servicing things against the higher cost of buying them.

Most people don’t realize that Ecuador has a lot of wealthy people and a growing middle class (at least before the pandemic). While a large percentage of the population lives in poverty, it’s not a nation of poor people as the news media portrays it. We really enjoy showing the higher end areas as a contrast to our rural beach town and they also help bust the “3rd world” myth.


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In addition, you'll gain immediate access to our Ecuador Cost of Moving & Living Calculator after you opt-in to our newsletter. It now contains a Low Budget Cost of Living option. You can opt-out at any time and we promise never to spam you.

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Disclaimer

We are not in any way responsible for your use of the information contained in our videos, articles or linked from our web pages. We do our best to provide timely and accurate information. However, news, laws, guidelines, rules, regulations, etc. are often open to interpretation, change frequently and sometimes we make mistakes, so please check the links we reference before making decisions or travel plans. If you spot a mistake, please let us know so we can attempt to correct it.


 

Top 10 Things To Do in Cuenca Ecuador

Here are the Top 10 Things To Do in Cuenca Ecuador during your visit to this beautiful and magical old-world city nestled high in the Andes Mountains. These are the activities we did with our friends and family when they visited and they LOVED them.

In 1999, Cuenca was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its historic and cultural significance. Everywhere you look, there’s something beautiful and historic to see, and photograph!

Without further ado, here is the list of Top 10 Things To Do in Cuenca Ecuador:

#10 – Get an Aerial View of Cuenca from The New Cathedral Terrace

The New Cathedral Terrace Eastern View of Cuenca Ecuador

The New Cathedral Terrace Eastern View of Cuenca Ecuador

Number ten on the top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to tour The New Cathedral, both inside the cathedral and the terrace located high above the city between the two front towers.

The official name of The New Cathedral in Cuenca is Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception), but most people just call it The New Cathedral or La Catedral Nueva in Spanish.

The groundbreaking for The New Cathedral was in 1885, but construction wasn’t completed until 1975. It was originally designed to have two additional domes with bells on the front two towers, but they were never added due to structural issues.

The inside of The New Cathedral is lined with several altars dedicated to various saints in the Catholic religion. Each altar is made of different materials, and each is a work of art and craftsmanship. The main altar is covered in gold leaf, which is common in Ecuador’s larger cathedrals.

New Cathedral Cuenca Altar in Cuenca Ecuador

New Cathedral Cuenca Altar in Cuenca Ecuador

If you want an amazing aerial view of Cuenca Ecuador, you’ll want to pay the $2 fee and climb the brick spiral staircase to The New Cathedral Terrace. From there, you can get a 360 degree view of Cuenca and the surrounding Andes Mountains.

The New Cathedral Terrace Eastern View of Cuenca Ecuador

The New Cathedral Terrace Eastern View of Cuenca Ecuador

#9 – Step Back In Time at The Old Cathedral

The Old Cathedral Cuenca Ecuador

The Old Cathedral Cuenca Ecuador

Number nine on the top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to visit The Old Cathedral Religious Art Museum.

The official name of The Old Cathedral is Iglesia del Sagrario (Church of the Shrine), but everyone calls it The Old Cathedral or La Catedral Vieja in Spanish. It’s one of the nicest museums in Cuenca.

The groundbreaking for the cathedral was in 1567 and it was finished six years later in 1573. It’s much smaller than The New Cathedral located on the other side of Parque Calderon.

While it does contain some of the graphic imagery used to put the fear of God in people back in the 16th century, most of the art is from the past hundred years so it’s not as gory. You’ll really enjoy seeing the original murals painted over 500 years ago!

The Old Cathedral Mural in Cuenca Ecuador

The Old Cathedral Mural in Cuenca Ecuador

#8 – Reward Your Tastebuds with Fine Ecuadorian Coffee and Chocolate

Fine Ecuadorian Coffee at Goza in Cuenca Ecuador

Fine Ecuadorian Coffee at Goza in Cuenca Ecuador

Number eight on the top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to reward your tastebuds with some delicious fine Ecuadorian coffee and chocolate.

If you enjoy coffee and chocolate like Amelia, then you’ll LOVE Ecuador! The best chocolate in the world is made here from the best cocoa beans in the world.

There are several major brands of Ecuadorian chocolate like Pacari and Leyenda, but you can also buy unpackaged chocolate at the mercados. However, most of the mercado chocolate contains leche (milk) so keep that in mind if you’re vegan or lactose intolerant.

#7 – Model a Panama Hat at the Hat Museum

Museo del Sombrero Hat Museum

Museo del Sombrero Hat Museum in Cuenca Ecuador

Number seven on the top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to visit Museo del Sombrero on Calle Larga y Padre Aguirre.

You’ll enjoy visiting the hat museum and the café on the deck above the Tomebamba River. You can try on some hats and then savor a coffee or tea while admiring the views of the river, Cuenca, Turi and the Andes mountains.

Museo del Sombrero Café View of Cuenca

Museo del Sombrero Café View of Cuenca

While these hats are commonly known as Panama Hats, they originated in Ecuador and the Cañari indigenous people who originally made this “paja toquilla” or “straw hat” still wear them today.

Paja Toquilla

Paja Toquilla (aka Panama Hat)

#6 – Soak in the Hot Springs at Baños

Novaqua Cuenca Hot Springs Pool

Novaqua Cuenca Hot Springs Pool

Number six on the top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to soak in the hot springs in Baños Azuay located about a 20 minute cab ride from El Centro.

NovaquaHostería Durán and Piedra de Agua are the most popular places with expats, but there are other places in Baños. They all have a hot springs swimming pool, as well as the thermal hot and cold pools. Novaqua and Piedra de Agua also have a sauna, mud pools, steam rooms and hot boxes.

Novaqua Cuenca Cold Pool

Novaqua Cuenca Cold Pool

If you prefer a child-free experience, you need to be at least 16 years old to enter Novaqua and it’s a little less expensive than Piedra de Agua.

Hostería Durán is the most affordable option, but sometimes there are lots of kids playing in the pool, which can tarnish a relaxing spa experience. Of all three, Piedra de Agua probably has the nicest pools, atmosphere and a full restaurant, but it’s more expensive and does allow small children.

#5 – Taste Exotic Fruit at a Mercado

Mercado 27 de Febrero Organic Market Cuenca Ecuador

Cuenca Ecuador Mercado

Number five on the top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to go to a mercado and buy some exotic fruit to taste.

Buying your fresh produce at the mercado helps support local farmers and it’s very affordable. Plus, you’ll get to practice your Spanish and enjoy all the beautiful colors and culture.

There is a wide variety of delicious and affordable fruit, both familiar and exotic. We HIGHLY recommend trying a Pitahaya, or Dragon Fruit in English (shown below). They’re very sweet and juicy, but they’re also prescribed as a natural laxative so perhaps start with a half of one and see how it affects you before get too carried away!

Dragon Fruit or Pitahaya in Ecuador

Dragon Fruit or Pitahaya in Ecuador

This funky prehistoric looking fruit is called a Soursop in English, or Guanabana in Spanish.

Soursop or Guanabana in Cuenca Ecuador

Soursop or Guanabana in Cuenca Ecuador

Amelia loves the sourness of this Guanabana, but I prefer the sweetness of its cousin, the Sweetsop or Chirimoya as it’s called in Spanish.

Sweetsop or Chirimoya in Cuenca Ecuador

Sweetsop or Chirimoya in Cuenca Ecuador

You may like some more than others, but a trip to the mercado for some delicious exotic fruit is well worth your time.

#4 – Take a Selfie with Wild Llamas at Cajas National Park

Amelia And JP at Lower Cajas National Park Cuenca Ecuador

Amelia And JP at Lower Cajas National Park Cuenca Ecuador

Number four on the top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to go to Cajas National Park about 30 to 45 minutes from El Centro.

The Lower Cajas is much lower in altitude so it’s also greener with more plants and animals to see. However, you’ll enjoy hiking in both parts of the park.

Polylepis Tree in Lower Cajas National Park near Cuenca Ecuador

Polylepis Tree in Lower Cajas National Park near Cuenca Ecuador

As you can see in this picture, Upper Cajas could pass for the Scottish Highlands, or an entirely different planet!

Upper Cajas National Park near Cuenca Ecuador

Upper Cajas National Park near Cuenca Ecuador

It’s common to see wild llamas in both areas of the park. We saw multiple herds of llamas on both of our hikes in El Cajas National Park. They’re very tame so you can get very close to them, but we encourage you to keep a safe distance so you don’t disturb them (and so they don’t spit on you).

Llamas in Lower Cajas National Park near Cuenca Ecuador

Llamas in Lower Cajas National Park near Cuenca Ecuador

If you’re an orchid lover, you’ll want to visit Lower Cajas to see the abundance of wild orchids growing in the trees.

Wild Orchids in Lower Cajas National Park near Cuenca Ecuador

Wild Orchids in Lower Cajas National Park near Cuenca Ecuador

#3 – Visit Turi on the City Bus Tour

Amelia on the Cuenca City Bus Tour

Amelia on the Cuenca City Bus Tour

Number three of the top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to visit Turi Ecuador on the Cuenca City Bus Tour.

The Turibus costs $8 for adults and $4 for kids, with a deal for families. It takes about one and a half hours to do the full tour and it provides a nice Cuenca history lesson and tour of the city before heading up to Turi Ecuador for some amazing photo ops. It’s a hop-on/hop-off bus so you can enjoy different parts of the city and catch the next bus when it goes by.

Mirador Turi Church in Cuenca Ecuador

Mirador Turi Church in Cuenca Ecuador

New Cathedral Cuenca View from Turi

New Cathedral Cuenca View from Turi

Once you’re at Turi, you can spend about 45 minutes tasting a complimentary canelazo, wandering around or enjoying the views before your bus heads back to El Centro. However, you can spend some extra time taking pictures of Cuenca or get some adrenaline pumping at the Aventuri Adventure Park.

Stephen at Aventuri Adventure Park Turi Ecuador

Stephen at Aventuri Adventure Park Turi Ecuador

#2 – Take Time to Smell the Roses at the Cuenca Flower Market

Amelia at the Cuenca Ecuador Flower Market

Amelia at the Cuenca Ecuador Flower Market

Number two on the top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to take time to smell the roses at the world-famous Cuenca Flower Market located across the street from The New Cathedral.

The Cuenca Flower Market has been designated one of the Top 10 Outdoor Flower Markets in the world by National Geographic, and a quick stroll around the flower stands is enough to understand why.

Flowers are one of Ecuador’s major exports, so there’s a good chance you may have enjoyed some in one of your bouquets back home without knowing it. However, you probably paid a lot more than they cost in Ecuador. You can buy two dozen roses for between $5 and $7.

#1 – Get Creeped Out by the Shrunken Heads at the Pumapungo Inca Ruins

Museo Pumapungo Inca Ruins in Cuenca Ecuador

Museo Pumapungo Inca Ruins in Cuenca Ecuador

Number one on the top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to get creeped out by the shrunken heads at Museo Pumapungo and then enjoy a walk through the 500+ year old Inca ruins.

The museum doesn’t allow photography inside so we don’t have any pictures of the shrunken heads to share, but trust us when we say they’re creepy! You’ll enjoy walking through the museum and learning about the history of the Incas in this part of Ecuador.

In addition to the Inca Ruins dating back to the 1400’s, you’ll also enjoy a relaxing stroll around the gardens and lake.

Amelia Being Funny at Museo Pumapungo in Cuenca Ecuador

Amelia Being Funny at Museo Pumapungo in Cuenca Ecuador

It was hard to choose a number one for the Top 10 Things To Do In Cuenca Ecuador, but we both agreed on Pumapungo because it’s such an iconic landmark in Cuenca, and it’s such an enjoyable place to visit. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do on your next visit to Cuenca Ecuador.

Top 10 Things To Do in Cuenca Ecuador Conclusion

Whether you visit Cuenca as a tourist, or if you’re on an exploratory trip to plan for an eventual move, you won’t be disappointed by taking some time to enjoy all the city has to offer.

There are several other things to do, like visiting the Museum of Modern Art or Parque de la Libertad, but these are the top 10 things that most visitors want to experience. Be sure to have your camera ready so you can share the sights with your friends and family back home!


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We are not in any way responsible for your use of the information contained in our videos, articles or linked from our web pages. We do our best to provide timely and accurate information. However, news, laws, guidelines, rules, regulations, etc. are often open to interpretation, change frequently and sometimes we make mistakes, so please check the links we reference before making decisions or travel plans. If you spot a mistake, please let us know so we can attempt to correct it.


 

Is CUENCA Ecuador the BEST Expat City?

Cuenca has been near the top of “best expat cities” list for nearly a decade, and a lot of expats live in Cuenca because of its international renown. However, if you’re still in the planning stages of your move abroad, you may be wondering, is Cuenca Ecuador the best expat city for me?

In this article, we explore all the things that make Cuenca an amazing place to start your new life in a foreign country, and we share a few reasons that may make you continue your search for a new expat home.

Is Cuenca the Best Expat City in Ecuador?

Before we share the main drawbacks that led us to leave Cuenca for one of Ecuador’s beautiful, rustic beach towns, let’s take a look at all the wonderful things that Cuenca has to offer expats.

Cuenca Is a Modern, Developed City with Old World Charm

Is Cuenca Ecuador the Best Expat City

Cuenca has all the modern amenities of a developed city like hospitals, malls and car dealerships, but it still maintains an old world charm with its beautiful, Spanish colonial architecture. The iconic blue domes of the New Cathedral can be seen from most vantage points in the city and make for amazing pictures to share with your friends and family. You’ll find a new, irresistible photo op around every corner in Cuenca.

Cuenca Has an Airport

Cuenca Airport

One of the amenities that makes Cuenca so appealing to expats is the airport located just a short cab ride from the heart of the city. While the airport claims to be international, nearly all flights go to Quito with an occasional flight to Guayaquil. You’ll also need to walk down stairs upon exiting the plane since there are no gangways, but the airport itself is very nice with a small food court on the second level and a tasty coffee shop on the first level by the ticketing counter. The flight to Quito only takes 45 minutes so it’s much easier than making the 8+ hour drive to Quito, or the 3+ hour drive to the Guayaquil international airport.

You Don’t Need a Car in Cuenca

Cuenca Ecuador Tranvia

Cuenca’s new Tranvia will take you from the airport through El Centro and out to the Don Bosco neighborhood on the southwest side of town. The expansive bus system will take you anywhere inside or outside Cuenca. Taxi rides are very affordable and most fares cost between $2 and $3 with a $1.50 minimum. Cars are much more expensive in Ecuador than in countries like the United States, and interest rates on car loans are very high, so luckily the wide variety of inexpensive transportation options mean you don’t need a car in Cuenca.

Cuenca Has LOTS of English-Speaking Ecuadorians

Most Cuencanos who are under 30 years old speak English, and many older Ecuadorians who lived in the US or Europe when they were younger also speak English. That means it’s a really easy place to start your life abroad if you’re not yet fluent in Spanish. With language apps widely available, speaking Spanish isn’t a requirement anywhere in Ecuador, but being able to communicate in English makes the transition to a new city and culture much smoother.

Cuenca Has LOTS of Spanish Schools & Teachers

Walking Spanish Lessons Cuenca Ecuador

If your goal is to learn Spanish, Cuenca is a great place to study the language. There are a variety of Spanish schools, teachers and language exchanges to help you learn and practice. We HIGHLY recommend Christina with Walking Spanish Lessons, whom we’ve featured in this video on our YouTube Channel: Cuenca Ecuador Walking Spanish Lessons.

Cuenca Has a Large Expat Community

Cuenca Expats

While many adventurous expats move to a foreign country to spend time with locals and experience a new culture, others move abroad mainly to live a more affordable, higher quality of life. These types of expats appreciate having other like-minded, English-speaking people to talk to and to provide social support. Cuenca has one of the largest expat communities in South America with thousands of immigrants from the US, Canada and Europe, making it an ideal place to start a new life abroad.

Cuenca Has a Variety of Modern, Upscale Housing

Cuenca Ecuador House

Your friends and family may think you’ll be living in a dirt floor house with no indoor plumbing when you move to Ecuador, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. While building standards aren’t quite the same as in the US and other developed countries, Cuenca has a large selection of modern, upscale housing to choose from. Whether you want a freestanding home, a row home or a high rise condo, you’re sure to find something that will make you feel right at home for a fraction of the cost compared to similar housing in the US.

Cuenca Has Excellent Pet Care

Cuenca Pet Care

If you’re planning to take your fur babies with you when you move abroad, Cuenca has a number of English-speaking veterinarians and pet care providers. You’ll find pet supply stores in most neighborhoods and malls, and you can even take your dog to daycare for a playdate. Your dog will also enjoy long walks along the linear river parks and in Parque Paraíso. And there are plenty of opportunities to adopt dogs and cats from several different animal rescues in Cuenca. Check out our recent article, Ecuador Pet Care, Pet Sitting & Pet Food for more on this topic.

Cuenca Has LOTS of Fun & Entertaining Things To Do

Cuenca Things To Do

If you’re an activity-oriented person, Cuenca will NOT disappoint! There are tons of things to do in Cuenca! You’ll find lots of museums to visit, like the Inca ruins at Pumapungo and the Museum of Modern Art in San Sebas. Cuenca has great walking tours, river walks, restaurants, social gatherings, music events, and more. Plus, a short 2o minute cab ride will deliver you to the hot springs in Baños Azuay southwest of Cuenca for a relaxing day of soaking in the therapeutic waters and pampering in the spas.

There are LOTS of Amazing Day Trips Around Cuenca

Cuenca Day Trip Cajas

Cuenca is centrally located near several of Ecuador’s incredible natural and historical sights like El Cajas National Park with its herds of photogenic llamas. You might also enjoy the waterfalls of Girón, the handmade guitar makers in San Bartolomé, the filigree jewelry in Chordeleg, the orchid farm in Gualaceo, the indigenous market in Cañar, the church built into the side of a mountain in Biblión, or the Inca & Cañari ruins in Ingapirca. And if you’re really brave, you’ll love mountain climbing at Cojitambo in Azogues! All of these attractions and more can be enjoyed on day trips from Cuenca!

Cuenca Has High Quality Medical Care & English-Speaking Doctors

Cuenca Medical Care

Medical and dental tourism in Cuenca is rapidly growing in popularity due to the availability of high quality care at a very affordable price. Many medical practitioners speak fluent English and most trained in the US, Europe, Argentina or Chile so they’re well educated and knowledgeable about the current science and procedures. Most private hospitals and newer public hospitals also have the same modern equipment that you would see anywhere in the US. If you have chronic health conditions or you’re just getting older, you may appreciate having Cuenca’s high quality medical care at your fingertips.

Cuenca Has a Large Variety of Delicious Restaurants & Cuisines

Dining out at restaurants in Cuenca is not only delicious, but varied and affordable. You can find most cuisines, such as Indian, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, American, Gourmet, Vegetarian, Vegan, and plenty of Ecuadorian. In addition to serving food that tastes amazing, you’ll also often find yourself taking pictures of the artistic creations put down in front of you because aesthetics are just as important as flavor to many chefs in Cuenca. You can buy an Ecuadorian lunch, called El Almuerzo, for $1.50 to $3 while most popular expat dinners will cost around $7 to $10 per person.

Cuenca Has Great Coffee Shops

Cuenca Coffee Shops

Ecuador grows some of the best coffee in the world, and now they’re FINALLY opening coffee shops to serve it. Gourmet coffee shops are growing in popularity, especially in Cuenca. Goza Espresso Bar is Ecuador’s version of Starbucks and they have several locations in Cuenca with both indoor and outdoor seating. Café Ñucallacta and Yaw Ecuadorian Café are also tasty coffee shops with good atmospheres and outdoor seating. If you’re a Starbucks addict, you might be disappointed to learn that it hasn’t made its way to Ecuador, yet. However, you’re sure to enjoy the rich flavors and varied menus at Cuenca’s numerous coffee shops.

Cuenca Has Modern Grocery Stores & Several Large Mercados

Cuenca Mercados

If you want high quality, low cost fruits and vegetables, Cuenca’s large, rustic mercados are the best option. But if you’re looking for packaged and/or refrigerated items, or you prefer shopping in modern grocery stores, you’ll find plenty of those, too. The renovated Supermaxi in El Vergel is now like a Whole Foods in the US, and there are several other Supermaxi’s in Cuenca. Other modern grocery store chains in Cuenca are Akí and Coral Hipermercados, which is like a Super Walmart.

Cuenca Has Several Speciality & Organic Shops

Cuenca Specialty Shops

Holistic living is very popular among Ecuadorians, who appreciate the value of non-pharmaceutical options to healthcare needs. You’ll find plenty of speciality and organic shops in Cuenca selling everything from fair trade chocolate to gluten free flour to CBD oil to cruelty free shampoo. Semilla Tienda Saludable (healthy seed shop) is one of our favorite stores and a great place to start your search for specialty items in Cuenca.

Cuenca Has Numerous Visa Agents

Ecuador Temporary Resident Visas

If you plan to stay in Ecuador past your 90 tourist visa, you’ll likely need to enlist the help of a qualified visa agent. While it is possible to get a visa on your own without help, the process has become much more complicated over the years and very nuanced. The rules and regulations are not clearly defined, so you may get different answers from different government representatives and the success of your application often comes down to the relationships your visa agent has cultivated. Since Cuenca has one of the largest expat populations in Ecuador, there are also a lot of visa agents to help you navigate the confusing process of getting a temporary resident visa. For more information about Ecuador visas, check out our article: Ecuador Temporary Resident Visas.

Major Drawbacks of Living In Cuenca

While Cuenca is quite possibly the best expat city in Ecuador, if not the world, it does have a few major drawbacks that may impact your decision to move there.

Altitude Sickness

Cuenca Elevation

Cuenca sits at 8,400 feet (2.560 meters), which is well over a mile and a half above sea level. That means the air is very thin and the sun is very hot (when it makes a rare appearance). After an initial adjustment period of a few days to a week, most people have no long term effects from the elevation, but others aren’t as fortunate.

Common symptoms of altitude sickness (more aptly named elevation sickness) are dizziness, shortness of breath, skin flushing, nausea, vomiting, dehydration, headaches, forgetfulness, difficulty walking, drowsiness, and/or sleeplessness.

If you have spent time in high elevation cities without these symptoms, you will likely be just fine in Cuenca. However, if you’ve never spent time at a high elevation before, you won’t know if it affects you until you get there. If your body doesn’t adjust after a week, you may want to search for a lower elevation city.

Cool, Cloudy Weather

Cuenca Cloudy Weather

Cuenca sits just to the west of the Amazon jungle so all the moisture that evaporates on the eastern side of Ecuador is condensed into clouds when it hits the high Andes mountain range. Combine that with the high elevation in Cuenca and it’s a recipe for lots of cool, cloudy days.

During the cold/dry season from June through November, you’ll rarely see the sun for more than a few minutes at a time, and often not for days or weeks at a time. During the warmer/wet season from December through May, you’ll ironically get more sun between the rains, but it’s still very cloudy most of the time.

Cuenca is called the land of eternal spring, which elicits images of sunny days and green grass and blooming flowers, but it’s also cool and cloudy during spring, which is a more accurate interpretation of the term.

During the cold months, temperatures can dip below 40°F (4.5°C) at night and rarely go above 70°F (21°C) during the day. Central heating is very rare in Ecuador, so you might need space heaters and warm blankets to stay warm.

During the warm months, daytime temperatures are typically near 80°F (26.5°C) and rarely reach 90°F (32°C). If you’re a fair weather fan, the constant Seattle-like cool, cloudy weather in Cuenca may not be your cup of…coffee.

Too Easy to Speak English (If You Want to Learn Spanish)

While the large number of English-speaking Ecuadorians in Cuenca makes the transition to a new country and culture easier, it can also make it difficult to learn Spanish. It’s simply too easy to speak English in Cuenca so you may not feel enough pressure to learn the native language, and many expats don’t.

If your goal is to become fluent in Spanish, you might prefer one of the other popular expat destinations in Ecuador where English is not as common. Check out our article, Best Cities to Live in Ecuador for Expats to see where other expats choose to live.

The Drive Through Cajas to Get to Guayaquil

Cajas Drive

If you fly into Guayaquil on your way to Cuenca, or if you visit the coast from Cuenca, you’ll need to drive through El Cajas National Park.

On your first trip, you’ll be awestruck by the natural beauty. You might even appreciate some new angles and scenery on your second trip. But by the third time driving on the winding mountain two-lane highway and down through the cloud forest with zero visibility heading toward Guayaquil and the coastal region, you’ll be firmly over the 3 plus hour commute.

You can fly from Cuenca to Guayaquil, but the flights go through Quito so it will take much longer than driving and cost 10 times more than a buseta with Operazuatur and 20 times more than an interprovincial bus.

There simply is no easy way to get from Cuenca to Guayaquil or the southern Ecuadorian coast without driving through the nausea-inducing Cajas.

This isn’t a deal breaker for most expats, but it is an inconvenience that does get tiresome.

Is Cuenca Ecuador the BEST Expat City?

All things considered, if you don’t have issues with the elevation or the cool, cloudy weather, Cuenca is still the best expat city in Ecuador, especially for new expats. Cuenca’s modern conveniences, housing, healthcare and services make it an extremely easy place to land and get your feet wet if you’ve never lived abroad before.

After living in Cuenca for over 2 years, we decided to move to the coast, primarily because of my worsening altitude sickness and Amelia’s lack of appreciation for the dreary weather. If Cuenca was 4,000 feet (1.200 meters) lower in elevation and a bit warmer and sunnier, we may have never left.

We have no regrets about living there and we still feel like it is the best expat city in Ecuador, and maybe all of South America.


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Best Cities to Live in Ecuador for Expats

While Cuenca tops our list of best cities to live in Ecuador for expats, it’s not the only popular expat destination. There are several other expat-friendly cities in the mountain region, as well as on the Pacific coast and on the western edge of the Amazon Rainforest that might better suit your interests and circumstances.

This is our list of best cities in Ecuador for expats, along with some interesting information and vital stats for each city. There are thousands of cities and towns in Ecuador, and expats live in a lot of them, but this article focuses on the most popular expat cities.

This is Part 4 in our series about living abroad in Ecuador. If you missed the other articles, you might want to Start Here…

Best Mountain Cities to Live in Ecuador for Expats

The Andes Mountain Range runs through the center of Ecuador from north to south with the Amazon rainforest to the east and the Pacific coastal region to the west. Depending on your personal interests, climate preferences and altitude issues, you may prefer some of the mountain cities over others.

Cuenca Ecuador

The New Cathedral Cuenca Ecuador

With more than 10,000 expats from North America and Europe, Cuenca is the most popular expat destination in Ecuador. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, it’s a beautiful old-world Spanish colonial city with all the modern conveniences.

Cuenca literally translates to “bowl” in Spanish, which is a well-chosen name as it sits nestled in a circular valley high in the Andes mountains. However, it’s actually named after its sister city in Spain.

Cuenca Ecuador Map

The New Cathedral (construction began in 1885) with its majestic blue domes is one of the most iconic pieces of architecture in all of Latin America.

If you’re studying Spanish, Cuenca is a great place to learn the language. There are lots of bilingual Ecuadorians, as well as language schools. Plus, the Cuencana dialect is much slower paced than other Spanish dialects and their beautiful sing-song accent sounds more Italian than Spanish.

The airport in Cuenca makes it easier to reach than some of the other mountain cities like Cotacachi and Vilcabamba, which lack an airport; however, there are no direct international flights from the US or Europe into Cuenca. All passenger flights currently arrive from Quito, with an occasional flight from Guayaquil.

Cuenca, and most of the mountain cities in Ecuador, are referred to as “the land of eternal spring.” That’s because the weather is very spring-like most of the year.

The Andes Mountains squeeze the moisture out of the air coming off the Amazon Rainforest to the east, which means it’s frequently rainy and cloudy in Cuenca. You won’t want to leave home without your umbrella and rain jacket.

With daytime high temperatures from 60 to 80°F (15 to 26°C) and nighttime lows from 40 to 60°F (4 to 15°C), you’ll often need a jacket for more than just the rain. You may even want some gloves and a scarf to keep warm on your way home from dinner, especially after you watch the beautiful sunset over the Cajas National Park to the west.

With its deep cultural heritage, broad range of shopping, affordable transportation, high quality medical services, and so much more, Cuenca is one of the best cities to live in Ecuador for expats.

Fast Facts About Cuenca Ecuador

Founded: April 12, 1557

Population: 330,000 (as of 2010)

Altitude: 8,400 ft (2.560 m)

Nearest International Airport: Guayaquil (3.5 hour drive) or Quito (8 hour drive; 45 minute flight)

Nearest US Consulate: US Consulate in Guayaquil or US Embassy in Quito

Quito Ecuador

Quito Ecuador

Quito is the capital city of Ecuador, and like Cuenca, it’s a Spanish colonial city with all the modern conveniences. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, inscripted more than 20 years before Cuenca in 1978.

Often called “the most beautiful big city in South America,” the old-world charm of the city center combined with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains will keep you mesmerized for hours. You’ll want to keep your camera handy as incredible shots are waiting around every corner.

Quito Ecuador Map

Parque Metropolitano Guangüiltagua located north of Quito’s city center is a massive 14,000 acre park with scenic drives, forest walking trails and outdoor activity areas. With 17 times more space than New York City’s Central Park, it’s a popular place to visit for Quito’s residents and tourists.

Some of the most popular neighborhoods for expats are La Floresta, La Carolina and La Paz. These neighborhoods are very walkable with modern housing and plenty of shopping.

If you prefer a quieter, more suburban feel, the areas of Cumbayá and Tumbaco to the east of Quito may be more your speed. They’re also popular with expats and closer to the airport, but you might need a car if you choose to live there.

Cumbaya Ecuador Map

The Quito airport is modern and fully international with direct flights to the United States and Europe, as well as many other destinations around the world. It’s also a short 45 minute domestic flight to both Cuenca and Guayaquil.

Quito sits at 9,350 feet (2.850 meters) above sea level, which is about 1,000 feet (300 meters) higher than Cuenca. The thin air is likely the first thing you’ll notice when exiting the plane.

The weather in Quito is very similar to Cuenca, although a bit cooler due to the higher altitude.

If you prefer a modern city with direct flights to other countries, Quito Ecuador may be the perfect expat destination for you.

Fast Facts About Quito Ecuador

Founded: December 6, 1534

Population: 1.6 million (as of 2010)

Altitude: 9,350 ft (2.850 m)

Nearest International Airport: Quito (45 minute drive from downtown)

Nearest US Consulate: US Embassy in Quito

Loja Ecuador

Loja Ecuador Map

Loja is another colonial mountain town located in south-central Ecuador. It has a regional airport with inconsistent flights to/from Guayaquil and Quito, but most people drive to Loja from Cuenca. It’s a beautiful scenic 3.5 hour drive through several of Ecuador’s microclimates.

Much like Seattle, Loja is often rainy, cloudy and cool, and is known for its delicious coffee and vibrant music scene. Loja is a popular expat destination because of its close proximity to Vilcabamba and Ecuador’s southern Amazon Rainforest.

Parque Nacional Podocarpus is a short 25 minute drive from Loja to the northern entrance and boasts some amazing hikes putting Ecuador’s vast biodiversity on display.

Once each year, the Guayacanes Forest near Loja blooms with a bright yellow explosion of color. Tourists from around the world arrive in Loja for the short blooming period in December and January.

While Quito and Cuenca both have a lot of English-speaking Ecuadorians, Loja and most of the other cities on this list do not. If you’re still learning Spanish, Loja will be full immersion.

If you prefer living in a smaller city that’s more isolated but still offers modern shopping and medical services, Loja might be the best Ecuadorian city for you.

Fast Facts About Loja Ecuador

Founded: December 8, 1548

Population: 180,000 (as of 2010)

Altitude: 6,758 ft (2.060 m)

Nearest International Airport: Guayaquil (6.5 hour drive; 40 minute flight)

Nearest US Consulate: US Consulate in Guayaquil

Vilcabamba Ecuador

Retire In Ecuador - Vilcabamba

Vilcabamba is considered a fountain of youth by many because it was briefly considered a Blue Zone where people live longer than normal. While it is true that you’ll see many incredibly OLD people walking around Vilca (as the locals call it), that’s a common occurrence in other cities, as well. The older generation seems to live a really long, healthy life in Ecuador! Perhaps for the same reasons as the official Blue Zones.

Vilcabamba Ecuador Map

Located about 45 minutes south of Loja and 4 hours south of Cuenca, Vilcabamba is nestled in a valley surrounded by scenic mountain peaks. There are numerous well-maintained river walk trails, as well as some high mountain hiking trails. If you have a few hours and enough courage, the hike up to Mandango will give you a panoramic view of the Vilcabamba valley.

Vilcabamba Mandango

You won’t find any big stores or large mercados in Vilca. It’s more like Leadville, Colorado in terms of amenities, but at roughly a mile high (5,233 ft / 1.595 m), you won’t struggle as much for air.

There are several small food shops and veggie stands in town, but the main mercado pops up on Sunday’s where people from rural areas sell their wares. You’ll also find a lot of restaurants, with many geared toward the sizable expat community living in Vilcabamba.

Unlike Cuenca, the weather in Vilca is warmer and drier, making it a better choice if you prefer a more tropical mountain feel. However, you might feel a bit isolated being so far from an international airport.

Fast Facts About Vilcabamba Ecuador

Population: 4,778 (as of 2010)

Altitude: 5,233 ft (1.595 m)

Nearest International Airport: Guayaquil (7 hour drive)

Nearest US Consulate: US Consulate in Guayaquil (7 hour drive)

Ibarra Ecuador

Ibarra Ecuador

Located roughly 2 hours north of Quito are three very popular expat cities: Ibarra, Otavalo and Cotacachi. Ibarra is the largest of the three cities with 140,000 people, making it less than half the size of Cuenca.

Ibarra Ecuador Map

The Imbabura Volcano is clearly visible from all three cities. While it hasn’t erupted in over 14,000 years, Imbabura is not considered extinct so if you have a fear of living near a dormant, but potentially active volcano, you might prefer one of the other mountain cities. However, thanks to past eruptions, the land around the volcano is very fertile making it great for growing crops like corn, sugarcane and beans.

Ibarra is very springlike with average high temperatures around 70°F (21°C) and average lows around 50°F (10°C).

With lots of hiking, boating options, a mountain train, museums, and shopping, Ibarra has lots of activities to keep you busy. Plus, it’s just a short 30 minute drive to Otavalo.

Fast Facts About Ibarra Ecuador

Founded: September 28, 1606

Population: 139,721 (as of 2010)

Altitude: 7,300 ft (2.225 m)

Nearest International Airport: Quito (2 hour drive)

Nearest US Consulate: US Embassy in Quito

Otavalo Ecuador

Otavalo Ecuador Market

Otavalo Ecuador is best known for its indigenous textiles market. While some things are available during the week, the largest market day is Saturday. You’ll find all sorts of irresistible things to buy, from blankets and tablecloths to clothes and wood carvings.

Of these three northern cities that are popular with expats, Otavalo is the closest to Quito. The scenic drive up Highway 35 takes about 1 hour 20 minutes from Ecuador’s capital.

Otavalo Ecuador Map

Otavalo is surrounded by high volcanic peaks, including Imbabura, Cotacachi and Mojanda. All these volcanoes are currently listed as dormant or inactive, but not extinct. They haven’t erupted in thousands of years and show no signs of becoming active any time soon. These volcanoes, as well as the cloud forests, waterfalls and lakes around them, make for great hiking and camping.

Fast Facts About Otavalo Ecuador

Population: 39,354 (as of 2010)

Altitude: 8,307 ft (2.532 m)

Nearest International Airport: Quito (1.5 hour drive)

Nearest US Consulate: US Embassy in Quito

Cotacachi Ecuador

Cotacachi Ecuador Cuicocha

Cotacachi sits at the base of the Cotacachi Volcano with its famous crater lake: Laguna de Cuicocha. The distinctive island in the middle of the lake is called Isla Teodoro Wolf named after the German naturalist and geologist who conducted a geological survey of mainland Ecuador, and wrote a book about the Galapagos Islands.

Cotacachi is located a short drive off the main highway between Otavalo and Ibarra. With fewer than 10,000 people, it’s the smallest of the 3 popular northern expat cities so you’ll get more of a small town vibe.

Cotacachi Ecuador Map

Just like Ibarra and Otavalo, Cotacachi is close to forests, lakes and waterfalls making it the perfect spot for nature lovers and one of the best cities to live in Ecuador for expats.

Fast Facts About Cotacachi Ecuador

Founded: 1544

Population: 8,848 (as of 2010)

Altitude: 7,933 ft (2.418 m)

Nearest International Airport: Quito (1 hour 45 minute drive)

Nearest US Consulate: US Embassy in Quito

Best Coastal Cities to Live in Ecuador for Expats

While some expats prefer living near the clouds, others prefer living near the sand. The entire western side of Ecuador borders the Pacific Ocean and is home to several popular expat beach cities and towns.

Guayaquil Ecuador

Guayaquil Ecuador

While Guayaquil isn’t located on the coast of Ecuador, it is located in Ecuador’s Pacific coastal region at the base of the Guayas River delta that empties into the Pacific Ocean.

Guayaquil Ecuador Map

As Ecuador’s largest city with more than 2 million people, Guayaquil has all the amenities of a big city, including an international airport with direct flights to the US and Europe, as well as most other countries in South America.

It also has a rich culture with lots of interesting activities and places to see. The malecón along the Guayas River has a variety of restaurants and shops. There are several modern shopping malls in Guayaquil, including Mall del Sol and San Marino Mall. And you may enjoy visiting the Iguana Park, which is home to dozens of the prehistoric reptiles.

Iguana

Guayaquil also boasts some of South America’s top hospitals with every type of medical service you would find in the US, but at a fraction of the cost. The hospitals equipped to deal with COVID-19 were overwhelmed in Guayaquil during the pandemic due to the high volume of patients. However, during normal times when there isn’t a worldwide pandemic, you’ll be very happy with the available medical services in Guayaquil.

While the mountain cities in Ecuador are known as the land of eternal spring, it’s always summer in Guayaquil. High temperatures range from 80 to 92°F (29 to 33°C) year round with ample humidity. You’ll probably want an air conditioner in your car and your home.

Thousands of expats call Guayaquil home and there are several gated communities with modern, western-style housing, but it’s also the most dangerous city in Ecuador with one of the highest crime rates in all of South America. If safety is a major concern, you may prefer one of the safer Ecuadorian coastal cities.

However, if you prefer a major metropolitan city with all it has to offer while never having a cold day, Guayaquil might be your perfect expat home.

Fast Facts About Guayaquil Ecuador

Founded: July 25, 1535

Population: 2.291 million (as of 2010)

Altitude: 13 ft (4 m)

Nearest International Airport: Guayaquil (located near downtown)

Nearest US Consulate: US Consulate in Guayaquil (located near the soccer stadium)

Playas Ecuador

Playas Ecuador

Playas Ecuador is a very popular expat city in Ecuador because of its close proximity to Guayaquil. It takes about an hour and a half to drive the nicely maintained highway from Playas to the international airport in Guayaquil and even less time to get to one of Guayaquil’s modern hospitals.

Playas Ecuador Map

Playas means “beaches” in Spanish, which is an appropriate name because the city is located near several beautiful beaches. However, it is officially named General Villamil Playas after the independence war hero.

Over the past few years, Playas has invested in several much needed updates, including a new malecón (boardwalk area) and the El Paseo Mall. In addition to a traditional Ecuadorian mercado, you’ll also find a modern Tía and an Akí grocery store.

If you’ve always wanted to live in a beach town that’s close to a major city and an international airport but has more of a small city feel, Playas may be the best expat city in Ecuador for you.

Fast Facts About Playas Ecuador

Population: 24,000 (as of 2001)

Altitude: Sea Level

Nearest International Airport: Guayaquil (1.5 hour drive)

Nearest US Consulate: US Consulate in Guayaquil (1.5 hour drive)

Salinas Ecuador

Salinas Ecuador

Salinas Ecuador has the feel of a little Miami, but at a fraction of the cost. This Ecuadorian coastal beach town is very popular with wealthy Ecuadorians, many of whom own beachfront vacation condos that they visit on weekends and holidays.

The Salinas malecón and beach are where most of the action occurs. You’ll find lots of restaurants, bars, discos, and tourist activities there. If you prefer a more laid back atmosphere, you’ll want to visit La Playa de Chipipe (Chipipe Beach), which is a 5 minute walk south of the main beach just past the Salinas Yacht Club.

While there is a small mercado and a Supermaxi in Salinas, most of the shopping is done in La Libertad, which borders Salinas to the north and hosts a variety of malls, grocery stores and a large traditional Ecuadorian mercado. It’ll cost you about $2.50 to take a taxi from Salinas to El Paseo Mall in La Libertad.

Salinas Ecuador Map

You won’t find the same level of medical services in La Libertad as you will in Guayaquil. There is a small hospital and a variety of healthcare professionals, but you’ll likely go to Guayaquil, which is a little over 2 hours by car, for serious medical conditions and specialists.

On your drive to Salinas from Guayaquil, if you take the turnoff at Ancón and enter Salinas from the south via Avenida Punta Carnero, you might be surprised at how much it looks and feels like a desert. The blue waters of the Pacific Ocean on your left provide a stark contrast to the sandy, barren land on the right. Salinas lies in one of Ecuador’s many microclimates, which sees very little rain and is therefore less humid than the tropical microclimates an hour to the north.

During the off season from May through November, Salinas is reminiscent of a ghost town since most of the high rise condos are Ecuadorian vacation homes. The beaches are nearly empty and many of the restaurants are closed except during holiday weekends when everything springs to life.

Because of the lack of activity most of the year, the expat community is very transient in Salinas. Many expats stay for a year or two before moving to someplace with a better culture, restaurant and entertainment scene.

Fast Facts About Salinas Ecuador

Population: 50,000 (as of 2010)

Altitude: Sea Level

Nearest International Airport: Guayaquil (2.5 hour drive)

Nearest US Consulate: US Consulate in Guayaquil (2.5 hour drive)

Montañita and Olón Ecuador

Montañita Ecuador

The 9 mile (14 kilometer) stretch of Ecuador’s Pacific Coast between Manglaralto and La Entrada, including the main beach towns of Montañita and Olón, are very popular with North American and European expats. You’ll find lots of expats from all age groups, and many have lived in this area for more than 5 years.

Olon Ecuador Map

Montañita is know as Ecuador’s party town. You’ll find lots of nightclubs, both on and off the beach. There is a large variety of restaurants, from Thai to vegetarian, and plenty of pizza shops. If you’re in need of clothes, shoes or accessories, you’ll have your choice of many small stores and street vendors.

Olón is quieter and more family friendly than Montañita. It’s a 5 minute, $1.50 cab ride north along Olón’s MASSIVE beach that stretches 5 miles (8 kilometers) north to La Entrada. When the tide is out, you can walk the entire beach in roughly 3 hours and then catch a cab or bus back to Olón in time for dinner at one of its many high quality, delicious and affordable restaurants.

Olon Ecuador

Both Montañita and Olón offer the best surfing in all of Ecuador, which is what makes them popular with younger expats from around the world. A walk on either beach and you’re likely to hear Spanish, English, German, Dutch, Polish, French and a multitude of other languages, with English being the common denominator. The prevalence of English speakers in this area may be one reason so many American and Canadian expats have lived here for so long.

The other towns (or comunas) such as Manglaralto, Curía, San José, Las Nuñez and La Entrada are very small with virtually no services aside from a traditional Ecuadorian restaurant and a small tienda (convenience store) or two. However, there are lots of affordable beachfront homes along this entire stretch of coast so if you’ve always wanted to wake up to the sound of the ocean but couldn’t afford it anywhere else, this might be the best place to make your dreams come true.

Manglaralto to La Entrada Map

Unlike Salinas, the tropical microclimate in this area is more lush and green. Walking down the street, you’ll spot Papaya, Guanabana (Soursop), Lime, Naranja, and a host of other tropical fruit trees and tropical birds sitting in them. The summer high season is from December to May when the weather is warm and sunny, but the remainder of the year it’s cooler and mostly cloudy.

The ocean temperatures peak around March 4th at 75 to 84°F (24 to 29°C) and bottom out around September 4th in the range of 66 to 75°F (19 to 24°C). Combined with the cloudy, cool winters, you might need a wetsuit to swim or surf from June through November.

The major downside of living in this rural area is the lack of medical care. Manglaralto is home to the area’s only urgent care clinic, which can handle broken bones, stitches and a variety of ocean injuries, but if you need a specialist or serious medical care, you’ll need to drive to La Libertad (1 hour), Manta (2.5 hours) or Guayaquil (3 hours). If you have serious or chronic health conditions, you may want to consider a more developed Ecuador beach town.

Fast Facts About Montañita and Olón Ecuador

Montañita Population: 4,500

Olón Population: 2,500

Altitude: Sea Level

Nearest International Airport: Guayaquil (3 hour drive)

Nearest US Consulate: US Consulate in Guayaquil

Manta Ecuador

Manta Ecuador

With nearly a quarter million inhabitants, Manta is one of Ecuador’s largest cities. The 2016 earthquake did extensive damage in the area so several new structures have been built, including the IESS hospital, which opened in 2018, and Mall del Pacífico, a modern shopping mall.

Manta is an industrial city and home to Ecuador’s largest shipping port, making it a popular stop for cruise ships. The city also has an airport, but most flights go to Quito or Guayaquil. However, the cheapest way to get to Manta is to take the bus, which is roughly seven hours from Quito and five hours from Guayaquil.

Manta Ecuador Map

Most tourists visit Manta for the water sports, including surfing and boating adventures. However, there are also things to do on shore, such as the International Film Festival in January and the International Theater Festival in September.

There are lots of expat-oriented, western-style housing options to rent or own in high rise condos near the ocean, as well as several gated communities located further inland.

The Montecristi Golf Club & Villas is a new golf course development located about 25 minutes from the beach. It’s open to the public, and with 300 days of sun per year with temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s F (20 to 30 C), you’ll be able to hit the links whenever you want.

If the big city isn’t your thing, you might prefer one of the small towns located roughly an hour drive from Manta, such as San Clemente to the north or Puerto Cayo to the south. You’ll have the benefit of the small town vibe with easy access to big city amenities.

If you live in Manta, you won’t need a car as there are plenty of buses (30 cents/ride) and taxis ($2 to $3). However, if you prefer to live in one of the nearby beach communities, you may not need a car but it would make your life a lot easier.

Manta is one of the best cities to live in Ecuador for expats because it has all the services of a big city while also offering a beautiful beach and lots of warm, sunny days.

Fast Facts About Manta Ecuador

Founded: 1534

Population: 221,000 (as of 2010)

Altitude: Sea Level

Nearest International Airport: Guayaquil (30 minute flight; 5 hour drive) or Quito (40 minute flight; 7 hour drive)

Nearest US Consulate: US Consulate in Guayaquil or US Embassy in Quito

Best Amazon Cities to Live in Ecuador for Expats

The Amazon cities are growing in popularity, but you won’t find nearly as many expats living there as you’ll find in the mountain and coastal regions. Most of the cities in the Amazon are smaller and not nearly as developed as the other best cities to live in Ecuador for expats. Many expats who live in the Amazon region actually live outside the cities on rural farms or forest land rather than in cities.

Tena Ecuador

Tena Ecuador Map

Tena is located about 3.5 hours from Quito by car. The airport that resides near Tena is no longer used for passenger travel due to low volume, so the only way to get there is by driving over Papallacta Pass, which sits at 13,000 ft (4.000 m) and, on clear days, provides amazing views of the valley below.

If you like hiking in the jungle, up a volcano or down a cave, Tena is the place to be. It’s famous for the Amazon rainforest surrounding it, as well as the tributaries that eventually feed the Amazon River. Kayaking and river rafting are popular tourist attractions and the whole area is a bird watchers haven.

Tena is also home to a new IESS hospital as of late 2018 so you’ll have better access to medical services than most of the other smaller Ecuadorian cities. However, you’ll likely still need to visit Quito for more serious conditions requiring specialists.

Average temperatures in Tena range from 71°F to 88°F (21°C to 31°C) and it rains year round, but the official rainy season is April through June.

Fast Facts About Tena Ecuador

Founded: 1560

Population: 60,880 (as of 2010)

Altitude: 1,378 ft (420 m)

Nearest International Airport: Quito (3 hour 20 minute drive)

Nearest US Consulate: US Embassy in Quito

Puyo Ecuador

Puyo Ecuador Map

Puyo is located just 1.5 hours south of Tena by car, but sits at 3,116 ft (950 m) making it more than double the altitude compared to Tena. That means it’s a little cooler on average, but similar in most other aspects.

Forest hiking, waterfalls and bird watching abound in Puyo, but it has been slow to jump on the tourist bandwagon so you won’t find it nearly as well developed as Tena.

There is a small airport near the city, but it’s used to shuttle tourists and locals into remote jungle villages. Ambato is the nearest major city located a little over 2 hours drive west of Puyo on winding mountain roads.

Fast Facts About Puyo Ecuador

Founded: 1899

Population: 36,659 (as of 2010)

Altitude: 3,116 ft (950 m)

Nearest International Airport: Quito (4 hour 30 minute drive)

Nearest US Consulate: US Embassy in Quito

Coca Ecuador

Coca Ecuador Map

Coca is the launchpad for many Amazonian travel adventures and is commonly known as the gateway to the Amazon Rainforest. At more than 5 hours drive time from Quito, most people fly into the Coca airport before venturing off into the jungle.

Due to its lower altitude and location deeper into the Amazon jungle, it’s typically a bit warmer than Tena and Puyo with average high temperatures over 90°F (32°C).

Over the past several years, Coca has invested in a river walk and other tourist attractions, as well as an IESS hospital similar to the one in Tena. You’ll be able to get most of your basic medical needs covered there, but you’ll probably want to head to Quito for more serious conditions.

Fast Facts About Coca Ecuador

Founded: 1899

Population: 72,795 (as of 2010)

Altitude: 1,000 ft (300 m)

Nearest International Airport: Quito (5 hour drive; 40 minute flight)

Nearest US Consulate: US Embassy in Quito

The Best City to Live in Ecuador for YOU

With so many amazing cities to choose from, you might have a hard time deciding which one is best for you. While you’re still in Ecuador on a temporary resident visa, you may want to stay closer to a major city like Cuenca, Quito or Guayaquil with easy access to visa agents and international airports.

Once you get your feet wet and feel comfortable with the culture and the language, you may decide to venture outward to a more rural or remote destination like Olón, Vilcabamba or Coca. Where you call home really depends on your weather and altitude preferences, as well as the activities you like to do in your spare time.

Each city has a variety of pros and cons, but you won’t know what resonates with you until you live there. If you travel light, you can easily move between cities until you discover the best city in Ecuador for you.


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